Born May 29, 1967 in Wilmington, De 5-6/1.68m 113lbs./51kg Concord HS, Wilmington, De '85 Villanova '89 PRs (outdoor): 800 2:03.89 '88 1,500 4:07.40 '88 Mile 4:28.77 '88 2,000 5:44.08 '88 3,000 8:37.25 '88 5,000 15:34.94 '96 PRs (indoor): 1,000 2:52.2 '86 1,500 4:14.0 '89 Mile 4:28.31 '88 2,000 5:49.8 '90 3,000 8:42.13 '90 2M 9:56.35 '87 PR (road) 5K 16:02 '96 Major Meets 1986 29)NCAA XC 1987 1)NCAA Indoor 3,000 1)NCAA 3,000 9)NCAA XC 1988 1)NCAA Indoor Mile 1)NCAA Indoor 3,000 1)NCAA 3,000 1)USA 1,500 2)Olympic Trials 3,000 6)Olympic Games 3,000 1)NCAA XC 1989 2)NCAA Indoor Mile 1)NCAA Indoor 3,000 1)NCAA 3,000 1)NCAA XC 1992 1)USA XC Trials 4)World XC 1996 dnf-h)Olympic Trials 5,000 3)Olympic Trials 1,500 9h)Olympic Games 1,500
In the Olympic Trials 1500, as the athletes dashed wildly to the finish, Regina Jacobs and Juli Henner running clear but the last spot up for grabs, the crowd roared as first one, then another athlete made her bid for the final Olympic ticket. From out of the pack emerged a familiar face, kicking madly. When she crossed the line in third place, she glowed with joy.
Vicki Huber? The Villanova star? Winner of eight NCAA titles? The Olympic 3,000m finalist from 1988? The heir to Mary Slaney's title as the great American runner?
Not at all. This Vicki Huber was a different person entirely. A mother first, an athlete second. Making the 1996 team meant a lot to this Vicki Huber. Eight years earlier, making the team meant everything to the young Huber most fans remembered.
The intervening years have done much to shape and strengthen Huber. She left the Villanova system, a harsh one by many accounts back then, one that produced great runners but had them scrambling to find new coaches after graduation. She weathered persistent injuries. She married Shannon Butler, a USA 10,000m champion in 1991, whose career since then has been as stormy as the marriage. When the two finally split, Huber took on the sole responsibility of raising their daughter, Alissa.
As the tumult settled down in 1995, Huber built a stable life for her tiny family, and naturally gravitated back to running. "I wanted to run to feel good," she reflects. "God has given me an ability, and along with that He has also given me a complete joy with running. You hear a lot of people say, 'I really don't like to run but I'm good at it and I like to win, so that's why I run'. But I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy running. To have that joy back and to have that ability back was the most important thing to me."
Getting back in time for the Olympics, however, gave Huber a challenge to accompany the joy. "Fast and furious is the best way to describe it," Huber says of the year leading up to the Games. "It was a miracle year for me. When I started back running after I had Alissa, most days I just thought, 'If I just qualify for the Olympic Trials, I'll be doing pretty well'. Getting in that qualification was hard, and getting on the team was miraculous."
Huber lives and trains in Eugene, Oregon, where she spends most of the day with Alissa. "I'm very fortunate to have my contract with adidas," she says. "I have made it work in my life so I don't have to work another job. The time that I don't spend training I can spend with my daughter. That is the most important thing to me. I'm lucky that I don't have to drop Alissa off at 7am and pick her up at six at night."
Under the guidance of Dick Brown, she trained with Claire Eichner and Jennifer Brevard, and often did her warmups with Suzy Hamilton. The workouts, she says, don't begin to resemble her regimen as a Wildcat years before. "At Villanova we did a lot of intense fast stuff. Pretty much the whole year we had a very fixed schedule. We raced almost every Saturday. We were ready to run fast in January. I've had to readjust my thinking, so if I'm not ready to run 65-second quarters in January, then that doesn't mean I'm not fit. It's been a big readjustment from college training."
More important than the differences in training styles is the difference in attitudes. The years and the trials have given Huber a more mature outlook on competition. "You know, when you're in college and you're going for points or the college name, or just building up to the NCAAs, that's all so important it seems like the beginning and the end of the world," she says, amazed at it all now. "You sort of have that attitude like you can't lose."
In 1996, Huber admits, losing wasn't a big deal: "You start out in March and you know you're not in your top form, so if you win or lose, you just hope that you learn something along the way. That's really the name of the game, and winning when it really counts is the big thing. I didn't win every race along to the Olympic Trials, and I didn't even win the Trials but I got third and that's what counted."
The irony of it all was that Huber made the team in what many considered the wrong event. Earlier in the year she had set a lifetime best at 5,000m, and many considered her a solid pick for the team in that event. Then, inexplicably, in the qualifying rounds of the longer run, Huber stepped off the track despite being in perfect position to make the final. She told reporters, "Maybe I was a little too scared. I've been away too long. God has a plan for everything, and He must be planning for me to be in the 1500." Her prognosis met with skepticism. While Huber had a real shot at the 5,000, in the 1500 she was considered a dark horse, not even being mentioned in most of the predictions.
"I spent the whole year training for the 5K," she says now, "getting ready for that, and running 1,500s in the spring just to get some speedwork and get back to competition, because you don't want to run too many 5,000s. My making the 1,500 team was a surprise, probably for everyone else even more so than myself."
At the Games, Huber missed advancing out of the first qualifying round by a mere 0.07 seconds. Other athletes would mentally thrash themselves over a disappointment like that. Certainly the 1988 Huber would have. But today's Huber shrugs with the knowledge that she gave her all, and promises to be in better shape next time.
Since the Olympics, coach Brown has reevaluated his methods, and Huber's training has taken another shift. "It's a learning process for all of us," says Huber. "I'm actually doing a similar program that I did with my coach in high school. It's more of a Lydiard type program, a lot of running, a lot of miles, spending a lot of time on the roads and the trails. Hopefully I can use this year and the years leading up to 2000 to build back my base.
"Last year, I came from having Alissa and I was doing intervals right away. It was like the big scramble to get ready for the Trials. This year I can breathe and relax and put the time in and get really strong."
The 1996 campaign, says Huber, was the "rewhetting of my appetite for the future. It said, 'I'm not a fluke, someone who was good in college and disappeared into the world.' Hopefully I'll have four to eight more years of good running. That's what I'm looking forward to. I still want to run well and show people that I wasn't another flash in the pan. Even though it was a miracle, miracles can happen over and over again."
Alissa will turn two in the spring of 1997. "She requires a lot of attention, so I guess my job right now is disciplinarian. It's a tough job teaching kids right from wrong, and what's acceptable and unacceptable is tough. She's my job, and she's the biggest joy in my life. Running is second." For Huber, the decision to put a possible masters degree in counseling on the back shelf until Alissa is older is an easy one.
For now, it's all about being a mom. And running for the fun of it. That's a lesson she wants to pass on to Alissa. Last summer, at one of the Wednesday night all-comers meets at Hayward Field, Alissa Huber lined up for her first race, a 60-meter dash. Suzy Hamilton fired the starter's pistol. And off she went.
Says mom, "Obviously she's going to hear from people as she grows up, with me being a runner, and her dad a well-known and very talented runner; she's going to probably have some pressure from the outside. But she also picks up a tune real quick, she likes to sing, and if she goes another direction, I just want her to be happy. She won't get any pressure from my end as far as running."